Coffee Time ☕

Olivier Thomas

Interview with the Collision Lab: Meet Olivier Thomas, our Manager, Open Innovation at the Collision Lab!

Interview with the Collision Lab: Meet Olivier Thomas, our Manager, Open Innovation at the Collision Lab!


Coffee Time introduces you to the Collision Lab, Centech’s open innovation hub, where startups and large companies join forces.


Working directly out of the Centech site, our advisors support large companies from different sectors in their open innovation initiatives, in collaboration with technology startups.

Can you explain to us what the Centech Collision Lab is?


” The Collision Lab is Centech’s open innovation hub. We are a bit of a breed apart at Centech. We serve startups in the broad sense, but corporate partners as well.



First you need to understand what open innovation is. As we defined it in our white paper, it is an approach to innovation that is centred on collaboration with external organizations rather than being limited to internal resources alone. With open innovation, we recognize that the sum of the ideas and talents present in our environment goes beyond the talent we have in our own company.


We encourage corporations to open up and discover new startups that offer products and services that could help them go further, go faster, be more profitable, develop new markets and so forth. At first they find it difficult to take the plunge, since it’s a way of doing things they aren’t familiar with. After that, everything gets easier.



With startups, we make a point of creating a good first impression. That’s super-important, because otherwise we risk killing the project. We work with them in the early stages to help ensure the collaboration will be successful. We are the linchpin between the corporate organization that turns very slowly and the startup that turns too quickly. The Collision Lab is an intermediary that connects the two parties that are at different stages.


Our role in the ecosystem is little known but nonetheless essential. We are a success factor in the relationship between large companies and startups. There is a need for more groups like us in the ecosystem to avoid the horror stories of poorly planned projects and companies that are no longer interested in working with startups because of past failures. ”

How does the Collision Lab team encourage startups to identify opportunities to collaborate with large companies/corporations and prepare for the possible challenges this will bring?


” At the Collision Lab, we work with startups on several levels. It’s important for us is to have some knowledge about the startups so that we can present them to the corporations. We also need to be aware of the corporations’ needs so that we can present the right startups.


The connection goes both ways. Sometimes large organizations share their problems with us so that we can present startups that could help address them. In other cases, we are very familiar with the issues of our corporate partners and are therefore able to present startups more spontaneously.



There are a number of ways to learn about startups: Demo Days, articles, workshops or the various Centech or ecosystem events. In every instance we take the time to meet with the teams and learn about their projects. We also do a lot of scouting in the various databases, hence the importance for startups of ensuring they have a strong presence there.


When the time comes to make a connection, we always hold a preliminary meeting with the startup to fully understand what it does. This gives us a chance to find out how mature the company is and to learn about its products and services. We want to understand why the startup wants to meet with the large company. Our conversation helps us determine whether the team is ready, whether it’s a good match and whether it’s a good time for the startup.


The screening we do is very important for the corporations, as it saves them time by allowing them to meet with startups that are truly relevant to their needs. This means that the large corporation does not have to waste time meeting with unsolicited startups. ”

Can you tell us about the collaboration between a Centech startup and a large Collision Lab company/corporation that stood out the most for you?


” The Port of Montreal approached us with a marketing project related to the interpretation centre located on the new Grand Quay. They wanted to showcase the Port facilities for visitors. It’s important to know that the Port has a scale model of all their port facilities. The model is 10 metres long and 2 metres wide, so it’s a huge model that represents part of the island of Montreal. It even shows where the water is. The first thought they came up with was, “Why not film this model in 3D to present our facilities from a different angle?”.


It was at that point that we approached Prévu3D, a company that was being incubated at Centech at the time. To our surprise, the startup replied that it was not the model they wanted to scan, but the entire facility. They then joined with another Centech startup, Ara Robotique, which has drones. So Prévu3D set up their cameras on Ara Robotique’s drones and were able to scan the full 21-kilometre length of the Port of Montreal’s wharf. It took quite a while to get the flight permits, but the results were worth it. Now there is a 3D model of the Port facilities that offers visitors a digital version of the model to look at.


Teams at the Port greatly appreciated having a digital copy, and further initiatives followed. For example, the group responsible for fire safety and security adopted this digital version to do training and industrial risk simulations at the Port to see how the teams would apply the emergency measures. This provides an opportunity to test how the group would respond in a specific scenario—a problem with a hazardous material, a fire or an explosion in a container, for example—in various locations. It clearly shows how the response plan is applied and how people react, while offering a 3D view of the Port and indicating where the fire hydrants and other equipment is located.


This shows how a marketing project can lead to something else when the different teams take ownership and see the innovation. Together, we can always go further. ”




For any questions concerning the Collision Lab at Centech, contact



Communications – Centech

Mélina Cyr St-André